Own Her Now"
Janja Lalich, Ph.D.
Once, in a leadership meeting, my cult leader
scoffingly remarked about a relatively new member, "Hah, we own her
now!" This victory was proclaimed by our leader in response to
learning that the young woman had just broken her engagement with her
fianc�, someone had not been interested in joining our group and who,
it was feared, would hold the woman back from deepening her commitment
We own her now. I own her now. I own them now. I own
How often must such thoughts run through the minds of
psychopaths, con artists, cult leaders, and out-of-c Lalich, Janja Ph.D.: "We Own Her Nowontrol authoritarian
figures? Some historians and researchers say that ownership of women and
attitudes of dominance and control date back to the "humblest
beginnings of social order" (Brownmiller, 1975); and many social
commentators would argue that these oppressive attitudes prevail yet
today--despite the advances in consciousness, perception, and legal
rights favoring women that have been brought about by various
progressive social movements.
Yet, how infrequently we explore these unequal power
dynamics, and how little we truly comprehend their effects on women
today. Even more sequestered from our view are the countless hidden,
coercive relationships: the terrified woman held in an abusive
"intimate" relationship, the "chosen" student
intimidated into having sex with her teacher, the trusting parishioner
tricked into a secret affair with her pastor, the selfless devotee
caught in a web of pseudospiritual sexual shenanigans with her guru, the
confused client persuaded to indulge the fantasies of her self-serving
therapist. The acts of exploitation and abuse found in what might be
described as ultra-authoritarian or psychologically coercive settings
range from a woman being subjected to obey rigid (and often arbitrary)
rules governing her daily life, personal life, intimate life, and sexual
mores, to having marriage and childbearing controlled, to being a victim
of ongoing sexual harassment, rape, and physical violence.
Are women more susceptible to the psychological ruses
employed by others to gain power, control, and sexual favors? Are women
more compliant because of their socialization to endure more, complain
less, doubt themselves more, trust authorities (especially male ones)
without hesitation? I have done no studies to prove it, but I think so.
Almost without exception throughout the world, women are
taught--directly and indirectly, and in practically every avenue and
milieu of our existence from the time we are little girls on--to put
ourselves aside and put the other first. What better setup for the
person (male or female) who--whether motivated by delusion or downright
evil intent--desires and conspires to take advantage of others?
Talking openly about such issues is never easy,
especially when one has been the object of such humiliation,
manipulation, and in some cases excessively dangerous behavior. Public
understanding is lacking, at best, and is blaming and deprecatory, at
worst. And professional comprehension, or even a serious tackling of
this topic, has not fared much better. Yet, open discourse is the only
way as a society we can learn of these harsh realities and begin perhaps
to do something about them.
In the preface to a new edition of her seminal study,
In a Different Voice, psychologist Carol Gilligan wrote that women
speaking out is part of "the ongoing historical process of changing
the voice of the world by bringing women's voices into the open, thus
starting a new conversation" (1993, p. xxvii). For that reason, I
salute the women who, upon invitation, contributed to this special
issue. Whether writing as professionals with some experience in this
area or as survivors of some form of authoritarian abuse or power
imbalance, these authors have honored all women who have been entrapped,
hindered, traumatized, and harmed by a perpetrator of psychological
manipulation and control. Women's voices coming together to bring new
perspectives, a broad understanding, renewed hope, and eventually
change--that was my dream in putting together this special volume. I
thank my colleagues here for making my dream come true.
We don't pretend to have "the answer";
rather, with these essays, our hope is to begin a discussion (or many
discussions) on a topic much in need of airing, where both public and
professional scrutiny have been lacking for far too long. So, let the
stories be told, the data gathered, the conclusions drawn, the questions
asked and re-asked. Let's do it for the women, the children, the men,
each other, and the world.
Brownmiller, S. (1975). Against our will: Men,
women and rape. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Gilligan, C. (1993). In a different voice: Psychological theory and
women's development (Originally published in 1982). Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
This article was the
Introduction to Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 14, No. 1, a special issue entitled, "Women Under the